Backwash

Yellow Second and Mary Beth Abella unleash two fine samples of local sounds.

There was just too much rain in Seattle for Scott Kerr.

"I always thought that gray, cloudy days were my favorite," says Kerr, the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for Yellow Second. "After being out there for a while, I realized that there were a lot of things I missed about Denver, including the sun."

But this meteorological revelation only partly explains why Kerr decided to pack his bags and his guitar case and return to Colorado after spending three years in the Emerald City, where he formed Yellow Second in 1999 and released a full-length album, June One, the next year. Kerr's sojourn in the Pacific Northwest followed his resignation from a longstanding post with Five Iron Frenzy, a local outfit most often summarized as a "ska-punk Christian" act. With that project, Kerr had grown somewhat accustomed to life as a self-sustaining artist: FIF's success on the road, particularly within the Christian-music community, enabled him to collect a paycheck and concentrate on music full-time. But Seattle -- a city saturated with musicians, many of them still devoted to the now-fetid grunge genre -- was a different experience for him. Although the band gigged steadily and received good notices for June One, it didn't generate the kind of response Kerr had enjoyed in his FIF days. He soon discovered that even truly talented songwriters can have a heck of a time getting anyone to pay attention to them.

Don't call her a folkie: Mary Beth Abella.
Scott D. Smith
Don't call her a folkie: Mary Beth Abella.

"I don't pretend to know what's cool," he says. "When I think about what's going on in music right now, it just confuses me. There are so many bands out there making great music, writing perfect pop songs for the radio -- like Superdrag and Supergrass -- that never get played. Even though I believe our music is good enough, it just doesn't seem to matter in terms of what gets into the mainstream.

"I had to come to a point where I accepted that I can't expect to make a living with a band," he adds. "I thought, 'Well, If I'm going to do it as a hobby, it may as well be in a city I love.'"

And so he came back to Denver.

The funny thing is, when the newly vamped Yellow Second began performing for Front Range audiences -- beginning with a slot opening up for FIF at Fort Collins's Aggie Theater in July -- those audiences paid attention. And with good reason. Now composed of Kerr and locals Nathan Marcy (bass), Josh Hemingway (guitar, keyboards) and Five Iron's Andrew Verdecchio, Yellow Second has refined a solid live show that highlights Kerr's dynamic, smart and poptastic songwriting. And good news for agoraphobes: This week brings the release of Still Small, a twelve-track gem on the New Jersey indie Urban Achiever Records that's already compelled area music scribes to raise their pens in praise ("Local Playlist," October 17).

Yellow Second boasts a heavy British influence, which makes sense considering that England has birthed the world's finest pop songwriters, from Lennon and McCartney to Costello and Yorke. But there's also a decidedly Stateside sensibility at work. Weezer comparisons are common and apt: Kerr might be Denver's Rivers Cuomo, without the ironic wardrobe and too-clever lyrics. Whereas Kerr's writing for FIF was spastic, skronking and sunny, his Yellow Second aesthetic is tuneful and cerebral, melodic and hook-and-sinker catchy.

In fact, much of Yellow Second's early work was conceived during Kerr's FIF days as a non-ska-centric creative outlet. "There was a certain discontentment in writing for Five Iron," he says. "There was a frustration of feeling like I had to make everything fit within the punk/ska format. I would write songs that I really liked and then have to be like, 'Okay, what do I have to do with it to make it work for this band?' I'd have to go back and add some trumpets, or speed it up. It got a little tiring."

The absence of horns and the lack of dancehall time signatures aren't the only major differences between the two projects. While the Iron players share a devotion to Christianity -- and incorporate it, however tastefully, into their music -- Yellow Second is a wholly non-religious affair, concerned more with matters of the heart and head than with the spirit. Born a Christian, Kerr says he began to question his beliefs years ago and lost his faith in religion altogether back in 1998.

"I compare it to the idea of the enthusiasm of the convert," he says. "I was kind of going through the inverse of that. Christianity had always been the most important thing in my life, so it was a little shocking for everyone when I announced that I didn't believe in it anymore. I couldn't, in good conscience, continue playing in a band and espousing something I regarded as false."

So Kerr left FIF, distanced himself from its message, and sought to create something that revolved purely around music rather around than a particular philosophy. Although he remains friends with FIF members, he says there are times when his past involvement with the band complicates his present life: Christian artists often are simply dismissed by secular artists and audiences, even when they move on from the world of biblically inspired music.

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